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Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Accountants are from….?

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Accountants are from….?

We all know the stereotype. Green eyeshades, pocket protectors, etc. It’s safe to say that accountants don’t have a reputation for being people you’d want to hang out with. Or, for that matter, have a meaningful relationship with.

Ok, so it’s a stereotype – but most stereotypes have a basis in truth. Accountants by their nature tend to be more analytical, rational, logical-thinkers. I’m a classic example – on a good day, numbers speak to me like I’m Neo watching the code fall from the sky, in that now-classic 1999 movie The Matrix. But I like to think I can also communicate with normal human beings.

So why do I hear often, usually from new clients who are looking for new help:

“My accountant confuses me.”
“I don’t understand what s/he is doing.”
“I don’t think s/he gets me, or my business.”

Believe me, this is a problem. Ask any accountant, and s/he will tell you that his/her goal is to be a trusted business advisor to their clients. So why this disconnect?

I offer some thoughts on each of the above and what you could do about it.

My accountant confuses me.
Accounting has its technical aspects, and like many technical subjects, it comes with its own jargon. I often forget that my clients may not know that CRA means “Canada Revenue Agency”, because I use the expression dozens of times a day. And there are lots of other TLAs, sorry – Three-Letter-Acronyms, out there.

Simple solution when this happens: Call me out on it when I use this type of jargon. As much as I try not to use acronyms or jargon without explaining, I can sometimes forget.

I don’t understand what s/he is doing.
This one’s a bit trickier. I should always have your best interests in mind. Which means that I should know what those are. Which means I should probably ask you, not assume I know.
Here’s an example: Most people want to pay as little in taxes as they are legally entitled to do. This is why they hire an accountant. There are a couple of things that are relevant here:

  • There are genuine grey areas in how professionals – including CRA – apply the tax law. Some people are comfortable with grey areas, and the possibility that they may suffer a reassessment, or lose on points if audited. Others prefer to pay more than they may strictly need to, simply to eliminate the risk that they will get a nasty surprise.
  • There are several legitimate things you can do – particularly if you have your own incorporated business – that allow you defer paying some taxes. This means that you will still pay the same taxes, but you can pay them later than you might otherwise have done. If you’re starting a business and are borrowing from the bank, this can be very useful cash flow support. But you need to be aware that you have done this, and that the bill will fall due next year. Some people prefer to pay their taxes as soon as they can, simply to get it over and done with.

Simple solution when this happens: Remember you’re paying me. It’s my job to make sure you understand what I am doing in your name and on your behalf.

I don’t think s/he gets me, or my business.
This one’s the trickiest. It really depends on what sort of relationship has evolved between you and your accountant – either implicitly, or explicitly.

Here’s an example: If you have a corporation, your annual financial statements will probably show the balance sheet before the income statement. It’s just historical accident that this became the default and doesn’t mean anything else. But you are probably thinking: “I don’t run my business by the balance sheet. I try to maximize revenues and keep my costs under control.”

For reasons I’ll discuss another time, accountants tend to start with the balance sheet when they are preparing financial statements and tax returns. But you’re unlikely to offer any blinding insights on the performance of the business, if that’s where you focus.

Simple solution when this happens: Decide what you want your accountant to be:

  • A technician who does your taxes / makes sure your numbers are right?
  • A key business advisor who adds more value to your business?

For me, I have many valuable clients who just come to me for the technical stuff, not business advice. I’ve learned – the hard way – to ask if they want me to offer the latter as well.

Hope that helps!